19 Jan 2010

Taylor: Gourmet Hoagie or Sad Sandwich?

image uploaded by jsmjr on Flickr

I am about to do something unheard of in Capitol Hill–I am going to write a blog post critical of Taylor Gourmet Deli. Yes, yes, I know that we all love what Taylor has done for H Street—making it a lunchtime destination for even the downtown crowd—but does living along the H Street corridor mean that we have to accept mediocre sandwiches at outrageous prices? I love a great hoagie just as much as the next gal, but what I don’t love is a poorly constructed sandwich, with absent meats and cheeses served on a less than pleasing roll. Unfortunately, Taylor Gourmet Deli now serves that sandwich, and has the audacity to call it a hoagie.

I was elated when I heard that a gourmet deli was coming to H Street in 2008, but I was skeptical of any deli outside of the Delaware Valley that claimed to make a hoagie. Getting a real hoagie outside of South Philly or South Jersey is like going to Disney World and ordering an authentic “Philly” cheesesteak. You know you are getting a steak-um with some cheese on a torpedo roll, but you hold out hope that this time it will be different and the sandwich will be just like the one you get at Pat’s.

Skepticism aside, I waited in line for my first Taylor hoagie on a cool autumn afternoon shortly after the store opened its doors, and the hoagie was everything I hoped it would be and more. The meats and cheeses were a step above even the best lunchmeats offered in South Philly, and when Casey told me, as he made my sandwich, that the rolls were from Sarcone’s Bakery–SARCONE’S!—I knew I’d be back for more.

I quickly became a regular, stopping by for a hoagie or some Rocky’s Risotto Balls at least once a week. Then Casey stopped making the hoagies, and David stopped working the counter. New guys came in and the hoagies started to suffer.

This past Sunday I got what may just be my last hoagie from Taylor Gourmet Deli. When I took a bite of my hoagie, I was less than pleased. The roll was hard—and not “good Italian roll hard” but “three day old hard.” The menu indicated that there would be sharp provolone on my specialty hoagie, the Philadelphia Landfill, but I couldn’t taste the cheese. The turkey on my hoagie was broken up into tiny pieces no bigger than a dime, and at first bite most of the turkey fell from the back of the roll onto the brown paper wrapper that was my plate. The tomatoes were more pink than red, and they were sliced so thin that you could read the menu through them. The only redeeming things on my sandwich were the perfectly shredded lettuce, the ham and the salami. Unfortunately, there was only one slice of each meat.

What happened to my hoagie that held me over between visits to New Jersey? As I rolled up the brown paper with the last bit of roll too hard to eat, I decided that the Taylor hoagie is now just a mediocre, over priced sandwich, and that I’d have to wait until my next trip to Jersey before I had another hoagie.

And the Taylor boys? Rumor has it that they spend their days at their new K Street location.

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  • Paul

    I eat at the K Street Taylor probably once a week. Every now and again the roll is a little harder than usual or the provolone is not quite as sharp. However even on the days were the hoagie is not at it’s very best I’ve never found the Taylor product to fail to be better than subway, potbelly, etc..

    The hoagies are a little inconsistent but I don’t feel they’re on a steady downward trajectory.

  • mkb

    Well said. I’m a recent transplant originally from Philly and was underwhelmed. Seems like they do certain things well, but my hoagie was okay at best. I had a hoagie from Sarcone’s less than 2 weeks ago and can tell you the bread was not the same. Also, the fillings were layered (parsimoniously at that) and not stuffed in the roll hoagie style. They also don’t have sweet peppers and when I asked about them, the owner was dismissive and suggested red peppers – essentially the equivalent of telling a smoker to replace smokes with chewing on toothpicks. Vaguely in the same ball park, but the experience just doesn’t measure up.

  • Kyra Deblaker-Gebhard

    Paul,

    I’ve never been to the K Street location, so I can only speak about the H Street location.

    And I’ll say this til the day I die–Subway is not and never will be a hoagie!

  • Kyra Deblaker-Gebhard

    mkb,

    I like mayo on my hoagie… it’s just how I was raised, and even the best ham and provolone taste good with mayo. So when I saw that they do not offer mayo, I vowed to always get take out so I can put mayo on at home.

    For me, it is similar to your pepper issue, which I understand equally.

  • I wholeheartedly concur. Taylor is extremely convenient for me, so I go somewhat regularly. But the bread is always too tough and brittle on the outside. The contents are scant. And you paid $8+. Very disappointing, though oddly congruent to the canned house music they play. I haven’t seen those dudes on H either, but, to be fair, I only go in the evening.

  • Mike

    I’m going to do something unheard of on Capitol Hill, disparage this blog and MotH at the same time. I left MotH a few years ago. Increasingly when I read this blog I feel like I’m reading a MotH posting. It’s just not that interesting. I’m sorry you had a bad sandwich. Great story(yawn). I think I’ll look for more interesting literary fare.

  • Ryan

    I’ve had a few great sandwiches there, but I’ve had some stinkers too. I’m glad I’m not the only one who suffered the sliced-up gums that come from chewing on stale, rock-hard bread on some bad days. It definitely ruined the sandwiches a few times. Also, they were recently out of both the roast pork (the entire reason I went) and risotto balls last time I was there a week ago. Definitely need to work on consistency and freshness. The price is pretty steep, so when I pay $10 for a hoagie it better not be a brick! All the griping aside, on the days when the chicken cutlet is done right with the broccoli rabe and provolone, it’s heaven!

  • Rocky

    Taylor is the Emperor’s New Clothes, hipster edition.

  • The roast pork/broccoli rabe/sharp provo is reason enough to go to Taylor. For my sub needs, I always go to Mangialardo’s for the G-Man. They’ve been selling it since 1968 for a reason.

  • Chris

    I agree that the H Street location has really been sliding in the quality of the sandwiches there. Do Casey and David still live upstairs? If so, how could they not have noticed?

  • Jen

    This post reminds me of a letter I wrote three years ago after I had a bad experience with the Holiday Turkey sandwich at the Pennsylvania Ave. Cosi. The only difference is that I sent that letter to the headquarters of Cosi, Inc. rather than posting it on the Internet under the guise of “journalism”. This is my first visit to this website, but if this had been the first article I read I would not return.

  • Taylor may have slipped a bit recently, but it’s probably to be expected as those guys have been busy the past couple months with opening the K St location. I suspect they’ll be back up to speed again soon.

    Kyra, have you tried the new pork sandwich (Pattison Ave) yet? I’ve heard a lot of people say that they thought it was the best sandwich they’ve had at Taylor thus far and I concur. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/01/05/AR2010010500872.html

  • Jay

    I’m not so sure you can judge Taylor based on one bad experience. My wife and I get food from the H Street location regularly (more regularly than we’d like to admit), and it’s been consistently a good experience. I haven’t had a bad chicken cutlet sandwich, and the Pattinson Square (the new roasted pork hoagie) is ridiculously good. They also do salads quite well – try the Love Park pastina salad with chicken.

    When a restaurant gets popular there’s bound to be some backlash, and I respect that people will have differing opinions. I just don’t think it’s fair to judge Taylor based on one bad experience.

  • Paul

    Mangialardo and Son’s may indeed be fantastic but it’s inaccessible to most of us with its limited hours (7:30am-3pm, Mon-Fri only).

  • Tony Soprana

    The very idea of a “gourmet hoagie” is ridiculous.

  • I agree with this author! Especially on the prices! They are at least $1 if not $2 on average more expensive than what they should be! Also, the quality has started to deteriorate!

  • Kyra Deblaker-Gebhard

    I wouldn’t say that I wrote this post because of one bad sandwich. I’ve been bothered by the roll for some time (and I don’t blame Sarcone’s… I blame trying to use a roll baked in Philly then shipped to DC). And anyone from Philly knows that the bread makes the hoagie. I’ve also noticed that the sandwiches have a little less meat than when I first started going there. Is it the recession or poor sandwich making skills?

    I’m no Woodward and will never claim to be, and this certainly isn’t copy worthy of The Atlantic , but I never meant it to be. I don’t want to put Taylor out of business. And if the guys were working at the H Street location, I’d say something to them. I am from Jersey, afterall.

    What do I hope to get out of this? I’d love it if someone brought this to the attention of Casey and David, then maybe they’ll take a second look at their flagship deli and make a few changes.

    I doubt you’ll get me to stop going to Taylor. From what I’ve read, I need to check out their pork sandwiches. (Can anything be like Tony Lukes, I ask?) And I do like their salads and risotto balls, but right now my focus is the sandwich!

  • Donna

    The owners live above the shop – if you were unhappy with your sandwich, tell someone in the store or leave a note for the owners. Blogs have gotten out of hand as a forum for complaining about really personal and often trivial stuff.

  • Robert DeNiro

    Don’t apologize, Kyra. Some people can’t stand to even be exposed to an opinion that is different from their own. Too bad.

  • Christina

    Whoa. I’m sorry you had a bad sandwich, but there is a lot of awesome stuff at Taylor worth raving about. We, on H Street, need great businesses and what we don’t need is someone being over-particular and damaging their business. Are you really going to insinuate that Casey and David aren’t there anymore? Any H Street regular will see Casey and David at Taylors and the other H Street/hill establishments. I’m sorry they weren’t at your disposal the moment you wanted to complain. They still live upstairs. Do some research before you make allegations of their neglect.

    Just to remind everyone of the great Taylor aspects: they are eco-friendly, they have cane soda, the red dipping sauce is just spicy enough, you can buy specialty beer like Strawberry Abita, their fried food is awesome as is their healthier choices, they have extended hours…need I go on?

  • gina a.

    I agree with this post as well. The first time I went to Taylor-right after they opened-fabulous, fantasitic, I went away singing their praises. The next time, a month or so later, not enough meat on the sandwich, though the rice balls were still good. Third time. Forget it. The bread was good but there was once again, hardly any meat on the roll! And sadly, it’s the same bait and switch we get at any number of hill eateries: Lots of effort early on, food cooked perfectly, decent portions, and then you go again a few months later, and everything has gone downhill. It’s too bad since I am as much of a sub snob as I am a pizza snob, and it bums me out that I was really kind of excited for Taylor, and now as one other poster said, it’s just another overpriced mediocre sandwich-hoagie-whatever. I won’t go back. And to hey, this isn’t trivial-this is their entire business! Sheesh.

  • @Christina, that kind of attitude is so damaging – yet so common – in transitional/up and coming/ gentrifying areas. No, “good enough” is not – nor should it ever be – good enough. Just because it’s better than nothing doesn’t mean people should be satisfied with mediocre.

    I don’t have a dog in this fight. I haven’t been to Taylor in a while and have no opinion on the current quality of their wares. But I do take exception to commenters on this blog and others around town saying a business should be supported b/c it’s better than nothing and that criticism should be reserved b/c it’s good enough. That’s bs and keeps establishments mediocre. If your expectations are low, they’ll be met every single time, and that’s not good enough.

  • Anon

    Hear, hear, Nichole Remmert. I found this post to be surprisingly refreshing. Are we really supposed to ignore the shortcomings of our local businesses? Capitol Hill Bikes, apparently not well run, but if it wasn’t for the comments I would have never known. I’m just waiting for someone to get up the temerity to call out Market Lunch for employing the rudest staff possible. I’d also like to see a comparison between Old Siam and Sanphan. I think Sanphan, with their use of flavor, should relegate Old Siam to irrelevancy.

    What’s more surprising is that people would complain about the content in the comments. If you don’t like it, don’t read it. Or start your own blog to complain about this blog.

  • Jake

    I’ve been hearing about this place since they opened, but haven’t gone there yet in spite of living just a few blocks away. After reading this discussion I feel like I’ve got to walk up there for lunch and taste for myself 🙂

  • After reading the original blog post and sifting through the variety of comments above, we wanted to address some of the concerns about the consistency in the quality of our food at Taylor Gourmet. Everyone at the deli, including the kitchen staff and the managers, care deeply about providing the highest quality hoagie for every customer with every visit to our store. We strive to create a perfect sandwich, one that strikes a delicious balance of meats, cheese, fresh vegetables and bread, but we understand that our kitchen can sometimes make mistakes. Since opening over a year ago, we still use the same high quality meats and cheese and still deliver fresh bread from Sarcone’s bakery every day. Despite our best efforts, if ever you notice inconsistencies in the food quality, feel free to shoot us an email (
    info@taylorgourmet.com) or drop us a line (
    202.684.7001) we welcome any and all suggestions.

    We love being in the neighborhood, appreciate everyones support and business since we opened.

    Casey and David

  • Christina

    As I said on Frozen Tropics: I have no problem with critiquing H Street businesses. I would just prefer that people explore other avenues before making a big deal out of it on a public forum. I’m positive Casey, David, or any manager would have addressed her dime size turkey on the spot.

  • B

    I think this critique suffers from poor sample size. Before taking a swipe at Taylor and the owners and staff, it would be more constructive to provide a more propper review over several visits and drop the personal crap. This is a well conceived and managed small business that has the occasional hiccups like most any place.

    It’s in poor taste to take shots at Taylor or any restuarant by griping on a blog rather than addressing any concerns to the staff and management. This kind of post would only be fair game if you brought your concerns to their attention and they told you to get bent, which they clearly did not. This just comes off as passive aggressive whining.

  • Really, B? Because a lot of people have weighed in both here and at Frozen Tropics agreeing that there has been a noticeable decline in quality. People who maybe don’t have other venues to share their opinions or who didn’t want to hassle Dave or Casey during the lunch rush or for some other reason couldn’t or didn’t let them know face to face.

    Thank you, Casey, for your comments. You guys have continually showed a commitment to H Street and that obviously doesn’t go unnoticed. I will definitely be in for the pork and broccoli rave when I get back in town from Pittsburgh! (Go Pens – Flyers suck! All in good fun, of course…)

  • wagon wheel

    That is so cool how “Casey and David” got Barack Obama to formulate their response!

  • The truth is the truth, even if you tell it from The Hill. ESPECIALLY if you’re talking about a HOAGIE!

    Keri (a.k.a. Sam) The Sandwich Guru

  • B

    Yeah — it is poor sample size. I’m willing to bet the H St. location serves hundreds of customers per day. A handful of negative responses don’t tell a story.

    Even if you look at a site like Yelp for better sample size, the small number of negative reviews are heavily outweighed by the overwhelmingly positive ones.

  • Elizabeth Festa

    We have many restaurant review here at The hill is Home from staff, and this one happened to be more negative. The writer has gone over the course of the shop’s opening and is informed about her opinions having grown up in a rich sandwich shop environment. In many of the reviews, we do not contact the owners, although each writer is independent and may do what he or she likes in terms of protocol. When restaurant reviewers do sit down and sample food from a restaurant they do go back a few times, but not 25 to 50 times. Otherwise, no review would get written. The writer, Kyra went numerous times, in fact, and is a neighbor, and resident of the neighborhood of which she writes , and can push it to deliver better. We all want good things for the Hill, which is our home. I write about, among other things, crime, and many items therein don’t make the neighborhood look pretty, but we are not going to hide our negative responses to things we would like to see improve. (I would also like to try that pork butt and broccoli rabe sandwich ASAP after reading about it.) Anyway, we are not Yelp!. We do not do large test batches of products. We write about our experiences, and others. We do not get advertising. We are a blog, and whether you consider us journalists or bloggers or neither, is up to you. We are a group of people who are committed to writing about all facets of the Hill, are doing so as volunteers, with each of us coming from different backgrounds and perspectives. Thanks for reading, Liz

  • mapgirl

    If you want a hoagie in DC, try Litteri’s. I’m from Philly and though Taylor’s is a nice concept, I’d rather have one from Litteri’s any day. I have one or two from Taylor’s when it first opened, which were ok. But I’d rather go to Florida Market for Litteri’s. It’s not like either place stocks Levi’s Champ Cherry or Frank’s Black Cherry Wishniak. (The Frank’s brand is long gone. Long live Frank’s!)

  • Has anyone mentioned A. Litteri? If you want a real sandwich with excellent hard rolls and a lot of meat and cheese this is the only place in the District!!!

  • eli

    I’m with you all the way. I had high hopes for Taylor’s. Unfortunately I will no longer eat at Taylor’s because my experience with them has always been negative. I don’t eat meat and paying $8 for a sandwich full of lettuce and 1 measly slice of cheese is a crime. Taylor’s shorts their customers. If you want to fill up on expensive old bread go to Taylor’s, otherwise you will eat better at the carryout.

    • I LOVE A. Litteri! Okay, not for their sandwiches since I don’t really like sandwiches but they have the very best selection of Italian ingredients that you just can’t find anywhere else. Okay, maybe you can find a lot of them at the Italian Store in VA but I feel like Litteri’s has so much more and has such a better and more authentic feel to it than the Italian Store.

  • Moon

    So a good review of Taylor would not have been “trivial” or “personal”? It is only “in poor taste” to post a negative review? Or is it only the shortcomings of H Street businesses that must not be discussed publicly?

    Does this apply to anything else? Movies and books? Do we complain about “sample size” to Michael Dirda? “This is a personal attack on [XYZ author], go to Amazon.com for greater proportionality.”

    I enjoyed this post. The writing is good. The description of the tomato slices was very accurate.

    • Kathie

      The main attraction at the K St location is the always stoned cashier, the rip the roof out of your mouth so hard bread you need a tug o’ war team to get a bite of a sandwich and the lack of one single drop of mayo.
      Skip it !!

  • Josh

    Concur. I live four blocks from Taylors and have sampled the grub on several occasions. Very disappointing for the price. Subway may be further and “not a hoagie” but at least its consistent, tastes relatively good, and is far more affordable.

    What I wouldn’t give for a decent Kosher deli…

  • Nick

    I just have to agree with the opinion of the reviewer here. I think it’s ridiculous that people actually wrote comments saying that people should speak to the proprietors instead of writing reviews. Are you seriously opposed to the concept of restaurant reviews?

    I actually like pretty hard (almost stale) bread, but I’ve had a couple of sandwiches from there on rolls I couldn’t get my teeth through.

    Unlike many of the people on here, I never had an “early” Taylor sub that I thought was adequately filled. From the very beginning, I’ve noticed an extremely unbalanced (and unsatisfying) filling:bread ratio.

    Someone above wrote how they never got a bad chicken cutlet. I honestly find that hard to believe. The first one I got was okay. Since then, I have gotten several (of the grilled variety) where the chicken was actually blackened and charred. Not blackened in a good way, but literally burned until it tasted like charcoal and portions of it broke off in flaky black bits.

    I’ve eaten at Taylors more than 20 times, I would estimate. I live so close that it is almost unavoidable (3 blocks). My roommates go there often, and many friends who visit often want to go there as they have heard about it. I rarely choose it myself, and the frequency of my visits has decreased, and will likely continue to do so until I find an adequate and close replacement.

    Just wanted to say that you neighborhood folks who are disappointed in the quality are not alone. Unfortunately, the buzz will likely keep business humming along at a brisk clip, effectively rendering any criticism moot.

  • lauren

    i agree. i live right by taylor’s as well, so go there when i want to get something quick, but the quality has really went downhill. has anyone else noticed the quality of the pastas, sauces and other goods they used to have along the wall have been seriously lacking as well? don’t even get me started on the 18 dollar minimum for them to deliver now….

  • Michael

    I had, what I thought was going to be an excellant sandwich but what turned out to be a nightmare. Is it so hard to find a local bakery that offers fresh edible bread? The hype of imported bread falls flat since when it reached my plate it was hard as a brick, totally unedible. Forget how much meat and potatoes fills the sandwich. if you can’t bite into it it means nothing.
    The cashier saw me toss it in the trash and asked if there was something wrong with it to which I stated the bread was so hard I couldn’t eat it to which he responded by saying nothing. Why ask if you aren’t going to respond.
    Poor quality on everything from the product to the service. I don’t expect much from a sub shop, but the owners need to take a course from the big boxes on the very basics…quality and customer service, even they get those 2 right.

  • I am from PA and I have never had anything from Taylor that reminded me of home. They used to deliver anywhere in the city for $2, a steal! One afternoon I called in a delivery to my home in Brookland and they guy on the other end of the phone responded with malice and disgust that they do not deliver “over there” anymore because of lousy clientele. I’ve never been back.

  • Foodster

    I really appreciate Kyra articulating something I’d thought about but not fully explored on my last three trips to Taylor. I loved, loved, loved that place when it first opened; thought I’d died and gone to sandwich heaven when I had the first of many Wharton Streets. And salads… and risotto balls.

    But something started slipping 9 months or so ago. The chicken cutlet would be tough, the lettuce brown at the edges, the salad dressing stuck into the box in a cup rather than evenly applied to the leaves by the folks in the prep area. And I thought, oh no – it’s happened. The boys are off launching 2 and 3 and the flagship store’s wares are suffering.

    I still go, but the bloom is off the rose. Casey, please intervene! I so appreciate your guys’ efforts on H Street. I really want to keep loving your sandwiches.

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